John Colter

John Colter

Kelsey Pomajzl, Reporter

John Colter enlisted in the Lewis and Clark Expedition as a private in 1803. Colter was one of the best hunters and scouts on the expedition. When the expedition was coming to an end in St. Louis, Missouri, Colter was met by Forest Hancock and Joseph Dickson, two trappers headed for the Yellowstone river. Colter wasn’t ready to return to “civilization,” so he joined them. As he was making his way back to St. Louis, he met Manuel Lisa and was hired to guide them to the mouth of the Big Horn River. Lisa then sent Colter out to find Native American tribes and establish trade with them. He traveled over 500 miles alone and was the first white man to see Jackson Hole and Yellowstone Lake. 

Later at Fort Raymond, he describes the wonders he saw in Yellowstone. Although most people were skeptical of what he saw, Yellowstone was soon known as Colter’s Hell. He then teamed up with another member of the Expedition, John Potts, but he was killed in a fight with the Blackfoot tribe. Colter was captured, but surprised when the tribe set him free, though they took all his possessions and clothes. While Colter was running, one man caught up to him, but Colter faced him and killed him with his own spear. He then took the man’s blanket, and hid under some logs to avoid being captured again. For the next eleven days, with only the blanket for warmth and finding food, he walked over 200 miles back to Fort Raymond and was nursed back to health. 

But that wasn’t the end. Colter agreed to lead another Missouri Fur Company expedition to the Three Forks of the Missouri River in 1810. They got attacked by Indians, so Colter decided it was time to retire from exploring. He gave William Clark valuable information to help map what he explored, bought a farm, got married and had a son. 

When the U.S. declared war on Great Britain, Colter enlisted. Fighting under Nathan Boone, Colter died while fighting for his country. However he didn’t die at the hands of British soldiers, but of jaundice in May of 1812. His remains were shipped back to his wife, who buried him on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, the center of all his travels.